Wounds to Heal

  • Donna Kane
    Summer of the Horse. Harbour Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Richard Pickard

There are always many reasons to find yourself at home in a book, and Donna Kane’s poetic memoir Summer of the Horse offers at least four.

For those who already appreciate Kane’s verse, this book will be a delight. At times her reach for metaphors can be intrusive, as if she can’t quite accept that she’s writing prose, but only rarely. Much more often the pleasure she finds in language enlivens her subject, as with a group of rocks at the top of Bevin Pass: “[S]hale shards jutting up like . . . shark fins, the tips pocked with crinoline blooms of lichen that ever so slowly grind the rock down.”

For those familiar with Canadian wilderness writing and ecological art, the book’s setting in the Muskwa-Kechika is itself something to conjure with. Don McKay’s Muskwa Assemblage (growing from a 2006 retreat co-organized by Kane); site-specific workshops led by greats like Betsy Warland; cameos in the book by Brian Jungen and Jan Zwicky and Tim Lilburn: Kane and her husband, Wayne Sawchuk, have been patiently making this region essential for certain schools of Canadian writing. Kane tours us around backstage through the praxis and the philosophy of separate and overlapping artistic and environmental missions—hers and Sawchuk’s—and it’s invaluable.

Speaking of Sawchuk, this memoir is also a love story and a tale of mid-life course correction, haltingly but potently told. Kane shares glimpses into the collapse of her deeply rooted marriage, as well as into what seems to her and Sawchuk to have been an inevitable new relationship: “[C]hoice, as Wayne said, was not part of the equation.” Marital frailty, admittedly, has come up occasionally in other writers’ memoirs, but Kane’s delicate handling feels fresh.

But you’re here for the horse, aren’t you?

The central story, around which the longer ones flash and eddy, is Kane’s obligation to spend a summer caring for a horse recovering from a severe injury. More specifically, through inattention and frustration with her husband, Kane is largely responsible for Sawchuk’s horse Comet ending up with a terrible bleeding wound in his shoulder, “a hollow so deep that if I lifted the hide to fully expose it, I think I could stick my head inside.” Over the course of the summer, Kane’s twice-daily job is to irrigate and medicate the wound, an intensely intimate relation across species.

Before coming together with Sawchuk, Kane was far from being a horse person, and in caring for Comet, she has to confront once again her fitness for this new life. Kane shares many delights and travails from her decade with Sawchuk, and some readers will object that the chapters in Summer of the Horse aren’t linked clearly enough. I don’t entirely disagree, but as I say, there are always good reasons to find yourself at home in a book. A generous reader will find a ready home in Summer of the Horse and the many kinds of healing that Kane portrays.

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